Laura Davis’ passion for Pro Bono legal service began in undergraduate school when she volunteered as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) and continued into law school while working with the Wisconsin Innocence Project. One of her most rewarding representations at the Innocence Project involved obtaining a new trial for a prisoner convicted of sexual assault based on newly discovered DNA evidence. The State ultimately decided to dismiss the charges against this prisoner, and Laura has assisted with efforts to obtain compensation for his wrongful conviction.
Carrying that same passion for justice into the firm, she contacted Brad Fulton in the summer of 2017 with an idea, one which would formalize a culture of Pro Bono activities within the firm by establishing a Pro Bono Policy and Committee. Although the firm and its attorneys have always been active and passionate about Pro Bono activities, Laura’s idea of formalizing and centralizing the firm’s efforts resonated on a number of levels.
She pointed out that by coordinating the firm’s efforts it could provide a wealth of opportunities for our communities and attorneys as well as elevate the firm’s marketing and recruiting efforts. Laura took it upon herself to research Pro Bono activities at other firms, studies by law schools and legal recruiters, and existing Pro Bono policies, which illustrated the importance of Pro Bono initiatives for law firm recruitment, retention, development and morale.
Laura also discussed with Brad her experience at the firm when she started as a first-year associate. She took a Pro Bono appointment from the Western District of Wisconsin with Megan Senatori and Deborah Meiners to represent a prisoner in a federal lawsuit. Through that experience she noted the exceptional relationships she built with fellow attorneys, the exposure she gained to federal litigation, and the valuable insight she obtained into the courts.
Laura suggested and developed a task force to assist in drafting a formal Pro Bono Policy and establishing a Pro Bono Committee for the firm. Over the course of 12 months, she met with a number of firm leaders and shareholders to discuss centralizing Pro Bono activities. With assistance from Troy Mayne, Scott Paler, Wes Webendorfer, and Megan Senatori of our Madison office, Beth Morrison previously from our Minneapolis office, and Lindsey Anderson of our Brookfield office, she worked diligently to draft a formal Policy for the firm.
The policy was presented and approved by the Executive Committee this summer. The next step in the process will be to establish the Pro Bono Committee to help implement the Pro Bono Policy within the firm. Laura dedicated countless hours to assisting the firm with our Pro Bono Policy and we commend her passion and dedication towards assisting not only the firm, but more importantly providing legal services to persons of limited means and charitable organizations that support them.
About the Jack DeWitt Pro Bono Award:
The Jack DeWitt Pro Bono award annually recognizes one attorney (or team of attorneys working on a matter) in the firm for his/her Pro Bono efforts. As many know, studies show that more than 80 percent of the legal needs of low-income individuals in the United States go unmet and millions of people find themselves in court each year without legal representation. Jack DeWitt was one of the founding partners of DeWitt Ross & Stevens S.C. – which became DeWitt LLP on January 1, 2019. He passed away in 2012 at the age of 93.
Born in Oklahoma in 1918, Jack moved to Wisconsin when he was 14 years old. From a young age, he was committed to excellence and determined to succeed. He obtained his B.A. and L.L.B. (now referred to as a J.D.) degrees from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. At the age of 23, he finished his law degree one semester early so he could voluntarily enlist in the military during the height of World War II in 1942.
After a short stint as an enlisted soldier, Jack set his sights on becoming a commissioned officer. He quickly worked his way up the military ranks and finished his officer candidacy training in three months. Jack was eventually sent to France in 1944 where he fought in the Battle of the Bulge. By the end of his tour as an infantry officer, Jack had earned a number of prestigious medals for his valor and bravery, including the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star, the Purple Heart and the British Cross. His history with the military extended beyond the war, as he continued to serve in the U.S. Army Reserves and eventually retired as a Brigadier General and as the Assistant Division Commander of the 84th Division of the U.S. Army.
Jack’s legal career was equally remarkable. He was one of the five founding partners of the firm Immell, Herro, Buehner, DeWitt and Sundby in the 1950s, which evolved throughout the years to become DeWitt Porter and eventually merged with Ross & Stevens in 1994 to become DeWitt Ross & Stevens (DRS). The firm continued to operate as DRS for 24 years until 2019, when the firm reorganized to DeWitt LLP. He practiced in the areas of Business, Litigation, Legislative, and Estate Planning. He was a prominent civil litigator who authored the interpretive commentaries in West’s Wisconsin Statutes Annotated and co-authored West’s Wisconsin Practice Methods and served as a mentor to many young lawyers throughout his career. He also was the Chair of John F. Kennedy’s campaign in Wisconsin in 1960.
During his career, Jack played an important role in the enactment of numerous legislative acts and court rules involving court organization and administration. He handled civil litigation and appellate work for state agencies, municipal corporations, school districts, national and state veterans’ organizations, major business corporations, and professional organizations such as the American Bar Association. He provided legislative representation for professional organizations, veterans’ organizations, and major corporations, and was a leader in working for successful adoption of state constitutional amendments. Jack also represented businesses and municipalities before the Public Service Commission, the Aeronautics Commission, and the Interstate Commerce Committee. He served as an acting District Attorney in Dane County and an adjunct Professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School. Jack also served as the chairman of the Advisory Committee of Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs.
He was the President and Chairman of the Board of Governors of the State Bar of Wisconsin, the President of the Dane County Bar Association, and Trustee of the National Conference of Bar Foundations. Jack received the Charles L. Goldberg Distinguished Service Award from the Wisconsin Bar Foundation, the Leonard L. Loeb Award from the State Bar of Wisconsin, the Distinguished Service Award from the University of Wisconsin Law School Alumni Association and the McNulty Service Award from the Fellows of Wisconsin Law Foundation.